• Trump is Successfully Killing Obamacare
• Republicans Still Pushing Their Hail Mary on Health Care
• Hatch: Tax Reform Is harder than Health Care
• Trump Lashes Out at ESPN
• California Wants Trump's Tax Returns
• McCain Is Acting Mavericky
• The Heat is on Facebook
• Mueller Hires Another Lawyer
Quite probably, President Donald Trump's most important campaign promise was to build a beautiful physical wall on the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it. The probability that Mexico actually will pay for it is close to zero, but now the wall itself is in great danger of collapsing before the first slab of concrete is placed. Yesterday, Trump said: We will build the wall later. He didn't even give a hint as to when. Earlier this week, he struck a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress that would protect the dreamers but would not build the wall. That was his big chance to get the wall financed and he didn't get the Democrats to agree to it.
In politics, when difficult policy decisions get put off indefinitely, that almost always means they are not going to happen at all. The next opportunity to fund the wall is when the current budget and debt ceiling deal runs out in December, just before Christmas. That is never a good time to do something mean and next year is an election year, when Congress functions even less well than it does in the odd-numbered years. So Trump's admission yesterday almost certainly means the wall is never going to be built. (V)
Given the failures of President Trump and Congress to repeal Obamacare (so far, at least; see below), The Donald's preferred alternative, given his loathing for anything and everything Obama-related, is to allow the Obamacare markets to collapse. And according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, it's working.
Among the relevant policy choices, the Trump administration has threatened to withhold the government funds that are used to subsidize particularly high-risk enrollees. It is also making a point of not advertising the availability of insurance plans, to individual consumers and to employers. Add it all up, and the price of insurance policies is going to go up, while the number of insured is going to go down. So, from where Trump sits, a double-win.
That the President hates Obamacare is not in doubt, and on Thursday he made clear his disdain for a single-payer system. He has yet to come up with any ideas of his own, however, despite the fact that he promised a "terrific" Obamacare replacement over a year ago. In any event, he's playing a pretty high-stakes game of chicken right now. The people who lose their insurance, or who are paying twice as much, can no longer punish Barack Obama with their votes, since he's out of office. There is, however, a president and a party they can punish—the ones running the government as Obamacare burns. We will learn in 2018 and 2020 if the voters choose to do so. (Z)
It's now or likely never for the Republicans to repeal Obamacare. The only way they can do so with 50 votes is using the budget reconciliation process. That window closes on Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends. After that they would need next year's reconciliation bill, but they want to save that one for tax reform. So they effectively have two weeks left to repeal Obamacare.
As we have noted, the last-ditch effort is a bill now sponsored by three Republican senators: Bill Cassidy (LA), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Ron Johnson (WI). What the bill does is end the individual subsidies in the current law and give the money to the states instead, to do with as they please. But as we have pointed out before, some states may decide to set up yoga centers in wealthy neighborhoods and not bother with basic care clinics in poor neighborhoods, on the grounds that those people will vote for the Democrats, no matter what, so why waste money trying to get their votes?
Cassidy now claims he has 48-49 votes in the Senate so far, and he is working on the last couple of votes. Of course, the previous bill got 49 votes, too. It is the last two or three votes that are the tough ones. That said, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) is now whipping votes, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has asked the CBO for a score. Earlier this week, the GOP leadership was uninterested in the bill, so its prospects are clearly on the rise. And sure enough, right on schedule, a major hospital lobbying group, America's Essential Hospitals (AEH), came out against the bill. AEH treats a disproportionate number of poor people, and is afraid that if the nation's governors control the money, the Republican ones aren't going to have much interest in using it to help poor people. (V)
As difficult as getting a health-care bill through Congress is, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), tax reform will be harder. The broad plan is to lower all corporate and individual rates, eliminate most deductions, and encourage corporations to bring home money parked overseas, which would result in a one-time jump in revenue. In the long run, such a plan will lead to enormous annual deficits, of course. Another key element in the plan is fairy dust, which when sprinkled on the plan, will generate enough economic growth to pay for the revenue shortfall. That was also the argument for George W. Bush's tax cuts, but the economic growth and new revenue didn't materialize then and according to most economists, won't materialize now.
Donald Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15%, but Hatch said that is very unlikely because the numbers don't add up. Such a rate would cost the government so much revenue that it couldn't make it up elsewhere. Most experts think that a corporate rate of around 25% might be achievable, if Congress took an axe to many popular deductions. The reason Hatch thinks tax reform is hard is that every single line in the internal revenue code was put in there because some powerful group pressured Congress to put it in. Removing the line will get the full attention of whatever group wanted it in the first place, and it will fight tooth and nail to keep it in. This is why there has been no tax reform for 30 years. It is really hard. (V)
If Donald Trump knows one thing, it's how to score a few cheap brownie points with the base. In conservative circles, the cable sports network ESPN has become something of a bugaboo in the past couple of years. Due to its termination of right-wing personality and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, and its choice to give an award for courage to Caitlyn Jenner (nee Bruce Jenner), a perception has emerged that ESPN is a bastion of liberalism, shilling for left-wing causes, and that this in turn explains the shrinking size of their subscriber base. Never mind that the channel has a sizable number of conservative personalities (Bob Ley, Sage Steele, Mike Ditka, Britt McHenry, etc.) or that their loss of subscribers is actually due to changes in the cable business, people are going to believe what they want to believe.
Recently, one of ESPN's most prominent personalities—Jemele Hill, who is definitely a liberal—took to Twitter to excoriate the President. She accused him of enabling white supremacists (true), surrounding himself with white supremacists (partly true), and being a white supremacist himself (dubious). This outburst checked a lot of boxes with Trump's base: ESPN, liberal, outspoken woman, black person complaining about racism. And so, it is no surprise that the White House decided to wade into the controversy, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders slamming Hill on Thursday, and Trump doing the same via Twitter on Friday:
ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
Sanders has already been hit with an ethics complaint for her words; Trump is protected from the same by virtue of his office.
There is no question that the base is thrilled by Trump's attack on Hill, as a review of his replies makes clear. Again, it checks a lot of boxes. It is the case, however, that he's helping to create a lot of headlines with "Trump" and "white supremacist" in close proximity, which may give some voters something to think about. It's also the case that the President is officially more angry at the person who tweeted that he is a white supremacist than he is at the actual white supremacists who murdered someone. (Z)
Several state legislatures in very blue states have been toying with the idea of requiring presidential candidates to submit their tax returns in order to be on the state's ballot. The point, of course, is to force Donald Trump to make public his finances if he runs for reelection in 2020, something he promised to do in 2016 but never actually did. The latest state to make a move in this direction is California, where the legislature has just passed a bill requiring five years' worth of tax returns from anyone running for president.
It's not clear that Jerry Brown (D) will sign the bill, as he is the first California governor in 30 years to decline to share his tax returns (the last one was also Jerry Brown, as chance would have it). With that said, it's all but certain that some state will eventually enshrine this requirement into law. That, in turn, will raise two very interesting questions. The first is whether or not there is a legal challenge to be made—perhaps Trump's lawyers could argue that forcing him to release his tax returns would violate his Fifth Amendment rights, or something like that. The second is whether Trump might decline to appear on a ballot rather than give up his returns. After all, he's not going to win New York or California anyhow, and telling them to shove it would burnish his "rebel" image and would probably thrill the base. Of course, if Ohio or Wisconsin adopts such a requirement, then he'd be in trouble. (Z)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has a reputation for being a maverick, although in reality he votes the party line nearly all the time. Still, once in a while he marches to the beat of his own drummer. This may be one of those moments. Yesterday, he announced his support for legislation that would block Donald Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military. McCain's argument is that less than 1% of Americans have volunteered to join the Armed Forces, so the generals and admirals need every qualified person able and willing to serve.
McCain's opinion on the matter is important, since he is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a bill to block Trump's plans falls under his jurisdiction. The ranking member of the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), agrees with McCain. Nevertheless, getting a bill as controversial as this one through both chambers of Congress won't be simple. (V)
Robert Mueller has been aggressively pursuing Facebook, and has collected a lot of information about ads that were purchased by the Russians. Armed with a warrant, the special counsel has not only gotten information about which ads came from Russia, but also who exactly it was that purchased them.
This whole situation has led to an uncomfortable amount of scrutiny on the social media platform, which produced some unpleasant new revelations on Friday, courtesy of ProPublica. It would seem that it was pretty easy for the Russians to reach whomever they wished on the platform, regardless of how fringy they might be. Facebook allows advertisers to target specific interest groups, like "people making more than $100,000" or "residents of Alabama." And among the available categories were some very concerning options, like "Jew Haters." After the Charlottesville fiasco, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "there is no place for hate in our community." Apparently, not only is there a place for it, but Facebook is even happy to take the bigots' money.
Meanwhile, the folks at Google have dirty hands as well. Buzzfeed, inspired by ProPublica, decided to do an investigation of their own. The search engine was quite happy to allow advertisers to key their ads to highly-offensive phrases, like "blacks ruin everything." In fact, Google would even suggest additional phrases. For example, a person who wanted to advertise to anyone searching for "Jewish parasites" would be helpfully advised that "Jews control the media" was also an available option.
Needless to say, once Facebook and Google were exposed, they removed the offensive ad categories. That's pretty easy. What's much harder is stopping individuals or entities who might use the platforms to advance an insidious political agenda. Facebook has 1.3 billion users, Google has nearly twice that, and it may be impossible to develop sophisticated enough algorithms to exclude evil-doers. And that's assuming that the sites even want to do so. After all, $100,000 from the Russians is still $100,000. (Z)
Speaking of special counsel Robert Mueller, he has added another lawyer to his team. It's Kyle Freeny, who may well be the DoJ's best lawyer when it comes to investigating money laundering.
Mueller's team—which has now swelled to 17 members—already had a money laundering specialist. Three of them, actually: Greg Andres, Lisa Page, and Andrew Weissman. The fact that Mueller felt the need to add a fourth, and a superstar at that, can only mean that this angle has become a big part of the investigation. The most likely perpetrators, in order, are former campaign chair Paul Manafort, former NSA Michael Flynn, first son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump himself. Hmmmm, four suspects, four lawyers who specialize in money laundering. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep15 Trump May Need a Couple of Democrats for Tax Reform
Sep15 Trump Administration a Tad Bit Dysfunctional
Sep15 Why Is Trump Trolling Conservatives?
Sep15 Trump Still Believes Both Sides in Charlottesville Had Bad Dudes
Sep15 Trump Denounces Sanders' Single-Payer Bill
Sep15 Roy Moore Suggested 9/11 Was Divine Punishment
Sep14 Mueller's Focus on Social Media is Red Hot
Sep14 The Flynns Are Pretty Hot, Too
Sep14 Conservatives Now Worry about Chuck & Nancy & Steve & Gary
Sep14 Trump, Democrats Reach DACA Deal...Or Not
Sep14 Mnuchin, Sanders Both Step in It
Sep14 Flake Is in Deep Trouble
Sep14 Federal Government Will Stop Using Russian Security Software
Sep14 Clinton Hits a Dozen People in Her Book
Sep14 Spicer Gives First Interview, to Jimmy Kimmel
Sep13 Lawyers Are Telling Trump Aides to Tell the Truth
Sep13 Flynn to Senate Intelligence Committee: Thanks, But No Thanks
Sep13 Trump Tries to Win Over Three Democrats on Tax Reform
Sep13 Sanders to Release His Single-Payer Health-Care Bill Today
Sep13 Graham and Cassidy to Make One Last Try at Obamacare Repeal Today
Sep13 Trump's Voter-Fraud Commission Comes Under Fire in New Hampshire
Sep13 Congress Passes Resolution on White Supremacy for Trump to Sign
Sep13 Ryan and Pelosi Working Together on DACA
Sep13 Democrat Wins in Oklahoma
Sep12 Sanctions for North Korea
Sep12 Breitbart Attacks Trump for Speech about 9/11
Sep12 Some Trump Lawyers Thought Kushner Should Step Down
Sep12 Four More States Sue Trump over DACA
Sep12 Clinton's New Book: It's Not My Fault
Sep12 GOP Gambled, Lost on Trump
Sep12 Roy Moore Has Some Interesting Friends
Sep12 Corker Is Considering Retiring
Sep12 Romney May Run for the Senate if Hatch Retires
Sep11 Bannon Is Planning Primaries against Senate Incumbents
Sep11 Bannon Says Firing Comey Was Biggest Mistake in Modern Political History
Sep11 California Is Going to Shake Up the 2020 Presidential Nomination Process
Sep11 Trump's Lawyer Hires a Lawyer
Sep11 McCain: I'm Facing a Challenge
Sep11 When Trump Promises Happiness, Look Out
Sep11 Sometimes the "Fake News" Really Is Fake
Sep10 Trump Connects Irma with Taxes
Sep10 Trump Willing to Get Rid of Debt Ceiling
Sep10 DOJ Won't Prosecute Lois Lerner
Sep10 Ryan Being Savaged on All Sides
Sep10 Pastor Declares Trump's Religiosity
Sep10 What Should Hillary Clinton Do Now?
Sep10 Two Congressmen Apparently Like the Gerrymander
Sep09 Three Moderate House Republicans Are Retiring
Sep09 Baucus Comes Out in Favor of Single-Payer Healthcare